Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image
Scroll to top


Best of The Month – Never Split The Difference

Best of The Month –  Never Split The Difference

| On 08, Jan 2020

Darrell Mann

For a long while, my ‘go-to’ book when it came to negotiation theory was the same go-to book as the rest of the world, ‘Getting To Yes’ by Fisher and Ury. At the same time, I also know that the number of times I’ve actively used the advice contained in the book can be counted on the fingers of half a hand. The main reason being the old Chinese saying, ‘when all else is equal, you buy from your friends; when all else is unequal, you still buy from your friends’. The intangible/emotional aspects of a negotiation, in other words, dominate over the tangible aspects.

If Fisher and Ury ‘own’ the tangible (‘rational’) side of the negotiation story, Chris Voss’ book ‘Never Split The Difference’ can now lay claim to the intangible side. And as such, it offers a meaningful contribution to the negotiation state-of-the-art.

As is so often the case in and around TRIZ-world, ‘someone somewhere has solved your problem’, and that someone, is very likely to be someone with an extreme version of your problem. Voss represents one of those extremes, being an ex-FBI negotiator. Which means that he spent a lot of time negotiating the release of hostages. As such, the book is full of neat, real-world insights and phrases (Chapter 5: ‘Trigger The Two Words That Immediately Transform Any Negotiation’ for example). For those insights alone, the book is worth the price of entry.

It’s not perfect by any means. Had Voss known the ABC-M first-principles of human behavior, for example, one suspects that most of the real-life hostage negotiation case studies included in the book could have been settled rather more quickly than the months they seemed to often take. On this count, Voss ‘discovers’ much of the ABC story by trial and error. Great to have this kind of validation of the relevance and importance of the model, but not so great for the hostages who spent several months being negotiated out of their unpleasant situations.

Ultimately, while the book makes a welcome leap into the world of emotional negotiation, it is also very much stuck in what we label ‘Operational Excellence World’. In that sense, Voss has been conditioned by the same thinking as Fisher and Ury. Fisher and Ury help negotiators hit the optimum compromise. Voss’ title hints at the idea that optimum should not be the mid-point, but rather something biased in your favour, but even so the result is still very much stuck in zero-sum-game territory.

In that regard, I was ultimately left thinking about the next negotiation theory blue ocean. Why is there no negotiation text that takes negotiators out of Operational Excellence Worlds and into Innovation World? The thought prompted me to write a blog article ( if you’re interested) about how TRIZ and Systematic Innovation might contribute to this. The blog article ends with this graphic:

TRIZ and (particularly) TrenDNA have much to offer the subject of negotiation, I think. Now we have Voss’ 2016 contribution to the art, I believe it becomes highly possible and sensible to combine a lot of what his work demonstrates with a lot of what TRIZ has spent the last seventy years revealing. A negotiation, after all, is often little more or less than a series of contradictions. Some tangible and some intangible.

For me the best chapter in Voss’ book is the last one, ‘Find The Black Swan’, which is about negotiator techniques for revealing the ‘unknown unknowns’ in a negotiation. Voss’ suggestion that ‘every situation has three black swans’ makes for a simple and effective heuristic. Especially if we’ve used TRIZ/TrenDNA to help identify the unknowns that were actually very knowable. Picking up my favourite Native American aphorism that everyone carries 87 problems with them, ‘every complex negotiation situation has 87 Black Swans. If you know TRIZ, the number reduces to 11. If you know TrenDNA, it reduces to 3. The innovation challenge is finding those 3 before anyone else’.